A Big Question

How are we going to adapt engineering education to prepare coming generations of engineers for climate warming and the need to protect people and infrastructure? How can we prepare them to re-engineer almost our entire civilisation to eliminate greenhouse and other harmful emissions in 25 years?

As you would know, I often write about engineers and engineering, and education issues. However, I have usually stopped short of specific recommendations, relying on my books and articles to convey ideas that educators can use.

Next week I am speaking at a panel discussion at Engineers Australia Perth on Wednesday March 31, 5:30 – 8pm. Register here to join in the discussion and contribute your ideas, or if you cannot join us then, reply to this post.

I have 5 minutes to start the discussion… what do you think I should I emphasise?

Well, here are the ideas I plan to touch on.

  • Productivity: if we don’t teach engineers that their fundamental role is to enable people to do more with less time, effort, resources, energy etc, in other words improve productivity, we can’t expect significant improvement. And that’s exactly what economists are reporting – see this post.
  • Need for an agreed “backbone” workplace learning curriculum common across most engineering disciplines
  • Graduates inherit independent work habits from formal education, whereas workplace requires inter-dependent work habits
  • Engineering requires specialised collaboration methods, beyond team work
  • Knowing how to create commercial value from engineering work practices will help employers’ profitability
  • Capability to argue for sustainability improvements requires understanding of regulatory risks and value creation
  • Aboriginal notion of ‘country’ could be helpful in promoting sustainable practices

Feeling Highly Honoured

Last Monday evening, on International Women’s Day and Begum Sarfraz Iqbal’s birthday (Samina’s mother)… if ever there was a role model for women Samina’s mother was one of them)… I was honoured by The University of Western Australia with a Chancellor’s Medal.

Thank you, Ayman Haydar, for this video of the citation by Prof. Amit Chakma, Vice Chancellor, himself an engineer and his first graduation ceremony since taking on the role last year. It was also a privilege to receive the honour in front of colleagues from the engineering school and a couple of hundred graduating engineers. One of my former students gave the occasional address: it was reassuring to feel that such a confident young woman had learned something from my teaching.

We can educate better leaders!

How often do hear people saying we need better leaders?

We blame our slow responses to climate change on populist leaders. Thanks in part to populist leaders, women still face the same barriers as they did two or three decades ago. We are consuming earth’s irreplaceable resources, mineral and biological, far too fast to ensure future generations share the lifestyle we have today. We can change… but we need good leaders!

We hear time and again how people are losing their trust in leaders, politicians, institutions, and journalists. Where, they ask, are the Roosevelts, Kennedys, Churchills, Ghandis, and Mandelas who could lead us through these challenges?

We have run out of time to sit and wait for a phalanx of talented and inspiring leaders to emerge and rescue us.

I think we can make good leaders emerge much sooner. Universities could do that, but they need some new ideas.

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Lahore Book Launch

“The Making of an Expert Engineer” was officially launched in Lahore at the Avari Hotel on March 3rd before a gathering of 120 engineers, engineering faculty, aspiring engineers, and friends.  Prof. Fazal Ahmad Khalid, Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Engineering and Technology (UET) presided at the launch.  The launch was sponsored by the author’s company Close Comfort.


James Trevelyan demonstrating the Close Comfort bed tent with air conditioner.

Audio Recording:

Selection of photographs taken at the event


James Trevelyan speaking about the book


Prof Fazal Ahmad Khalid

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Why is it so hard to change engineering education?

In the last two decades we have seen waves of advocacy for changing engineering education, while at the same time we have entrenched the existing model ever deeper through international standardization and accreditation models like the Washington Accord.

Our research on engineering practice, what engineers actually do, demonstrates the need for changes – see my recent blog post on Dave Goldberg’s Big Beacon site.

Students know that they will never have to solve partial differential equations as engineers, so why do we continue to teach that, and not teach them the things they will actually be doing in practice? Continue reading

Some key issues facing young engineers

Just now, the main issue is how to get an engineering job, to get the experience a young engineer needs to start a career. A big part of the problem here is a simple lack of knowledge: most engineering schools don’t teach their students anything about the engineering employment market. That’s why you see so many young engineers applying for jobs online, not realising that companies get 300 to 500 responses to every advertisement. After they send off maybe two hundred job applications with hardly any response, maybe one interview, they get really frustrated. What’s interesting to me is that few seem to realise that maybe they’re doing something wrong.

That’s why there’s a chapter in the book on how to find engineering work. Networking and visiting engineering component suppliers is a much better way to find work, especially in tough times.

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